Friday, January 28, 2011

Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)

Spoiler Alert: Great Expectations is a fantastic book. I mean, it's Dickens. Everyone should read Dickens. This review is less about the quality of a novel already widely accepted as the work of a master craftsman, and more about how I read the book. Let me explain.


Two highly influential events occurred almost simultaneously at the end of 2010. First, on December 2, 2010, Oprah Winfrey announced her 65th selection to her infamous book club. The new addition, actually two books, was the Penguin deluxe double edition of two Charles Dickens classics, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. The selection was slightly controversial—at least to those interested in such things—because it was only the second book selected in 2010 (Jonathan Franzen's Freedom being the first), and only the fifth since the beginning of 2008. To choose a pair of undeniable classics such as these was an extremely safe bet for Oprah's Book Club, which has arguably yet to recover from the fallout of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces scandal of 2005. Oprah even went so far as to admit on her show that she had never read Dickens before. Hmm, I wonder how much Penguin had to shell out to make the list...

The second event that brought me to this week's read was the much-anticipated launch of Google Books, also in December of last year. After years of planned launches and inevitable delays, mostly due to the mounting number of lawsuits the idea spurned, Google's attempted dive into the digital book world was met with moderate fanfare for about a day and a half. Google claims that there are 129,864,880 unique books in the world, and is devoted to scanning them all. At present, Google has scanned over 15 million of them. Of those 15 million books, guess which one comes free when you sign up for the service; that's right, Great Expectations.

Now, Google Books both is and isn't in direct competition with the current major e-book names. There is no Google-specific e-reader, so physical sales of the Nook, Kindle, and other devices are seemingly not affected. Google does offer the ability to synch apps on multiple devices to your account, though, enabling readers to enjoy a book on their Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Nook, or even directly on their computer, which definitely does compete with Amazon, Sony, and Barnes & Noble. Not only that, but also, when you use Google to search for a book title, one of the hits that comes up is always going to be a link to Google Books, which most certainly has its benefits.

What does this have to do with me, you ask?

Well, it's important to note that, while Google Books is absolutely free, and comes with a wide variety of public domain titles, it does not hold any exclusive access to these titles, for obvious reasons. A book like Great Expectations can be obtained for free just as easily on a Kindle or a Nook. While it is nice to be able to read books on the web, you could always read free books on the web; you just had to find them. Google puts them all in one place. As for paid books, Google's prices are virtually identical to Amazon's, so it all comes down to the reader. Do you like reading on a computer screen? or would you rather help your eyes and use e-ink? Are you in the market for an e-reader? or would reading on your computer or smart phone suffice? Are digital books something you plan on investing a lot of money in? or just something you tend to enjoy when you have the time? All of these questions are important when determining how exactly to get your Oprah Book Clubbing on.

As for the read itself, it honestly took me a while. Great Expectations is a phenomenal book, much better than I anticipated. It is highly suspenseful, colorful and vivid, and downright hilarious at times. Dickens' characters are, as always, larger than life, and tend towards ridiculous mannerisms and habits of speech. I enjoyed every minute of this book. Why did it take me so long, then?

Mostly because of Google Books. I tried reading in a variety of ways—my phone, online, my girlfriend's Kindle—and some were much better than others. The Google Books app on my iPhone is definitely handy to have, and I did most of my reading that way, but it was slow going. The pages are obviously very small, and the app itself has trouble handling anything else you might be using your phone for at the time. Pages need to reload after every incoming text message, even if you hit close and ignore the message. Also, Google' scanning process, while revolutionary in its speed, is prone to glaring typographical errors that are difficult to ignore. The app makes up for these faults in several ways, though. There are options that allow you to change your font, font size, and font and background color, and there's even a function that let's you read white on black, which is much easier for reading in the dark. Also, it is extremely easy to move around within the book, and the touch screen is utilized to great affect.

I did not read much of the book on my computer, as it ended up being much more trouble than it was worth. When I'm reading, I don't like to have to worry about clicking or scrolling with a mouse/trackpad to flip a page, and the glare of a computer screen tends to affect my eyes much more than my phone screen. Also, books are meant to be held in your hands, even e-books. As bizarre as it feels to be saying this, we're at the point technologically where laptops are bulky, especially for a task as simple as reading a book.

The simplest way to just read Great Expectations was definitely the Kindle. The Google Books app has a fun little page-turn effect, but with the Kindle you get a larger screen and significantly less typos. I won't say that there were zero typos, because I doubt that that can be said for any book, but I certainly did not notice any. E-ink is a genius invention, and truly simulates a paper page, making for a seamless reading experience. Most of the time. The problem with the Kindle is that it is extremely difficult to use for anything besides reading. Without a touch screen, the Kindle's controls feel slow and complex. Maybe I'm just spoiled at this point in my technological life, but I feel like we shouldn't be going backwards in terms of user friendliness. If you want to just sit down and read your e-book comfortably, wherever and whenever you like, then the Kindle is perfect. However, sometimes it's just easier to read on a device that you're already using, like your iPhone or iPad. Of course, Kindle does have its own app for those devices as well, so...


Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens

Dickens is one of the all-time bests at throwing interesting characters into unexpected situations.

He's also pretty spectacular at writing about mundane events in a way that really gives them flavor and life. He throws metaphors around like they're falling from the sky; it's ridiculous, I love it.

Absolutely fantastic. I've seen the Ethan Hawke/Gwyneth Paltrow movie, and it doesn't nearly do this book justice. Even knowing the basic story, it was still full of surprises.


I don't doubt that I would have given this book an even higher rating had I sat down and just read it straight through, but the stops and starts and constant interruptions from reading on multiple devices, especially my phone, brought it down a bit. I've only read a couple of books on the Oprah's Book Club list—and she hasn't even read this one!—but I think I might look into it a bit more in the future, because this novel was a complete joy. Keep reading, Genoshans!

1 comment:

  1. Must be an enjoyable read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.


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